After Christmas, the sports world begins a slow march towards baseball. First, there’s the Superbowl, then the Daytona 500, the ever-symbolic truck day — the day the Cardinals pack up their massive load of equipment in trucks for the long trip down to Jupiter — and finally, the day pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training.
But none of that compares to the first St. Louis Cardinals game of Spring Training — especially when it’s on television. Today begins the slow, grinding campaign for a National League pennant. No, the results don’t count. No, a win or loss is not nearly as important as the work the players can get in during the game.
But it counts for fans. After months of bitter winter cold and overhyped football games, the American tradition is returning to the homes of the midwest.
It just don’t get no better than that.
To get you ready for the start of the fan-watching season, here’s a few items to remember as the Cardinals begin their 2014 pursuit of a twelfth world championship.
Carlos Martinez gets first crack at auditioning for a starting spot. When the Spring Training season opens, so too does the competition for the fifth starter spot — assuming Jaime Garcia can’t start the season in the rotation. Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez have already locked down the one and two positions for that role, and Martinez gets first shot tomorrow afternoon. This is intriguing for more than one reason, but don’t expect it to change much. Joe Kelly, through virtue of experience and situation, is likely to get the nod for any starting role to open the season, especially if it’s an assignment shorter than two months. He can easily slide back into the bullpen without disrupting either of the likely roles for Martinez — Triple-A rotation spot to prepare for later in the big league season, or 8th inning setup man in the big league bullpen.
Kolten Wong is batting second today. While it may not happen often early in the season, get used to the idea of Wong and Carpenter hitting at the top of the Cardinals’ lineup. The on-base percentage of Matt Carpenter and the speed of Wong (as well as a lesser-but-capable ability to get on base) will make for a maddening combo in St. Louis for years to come. Sure, it’ll likely take Wong a while to figure it out in the bottom half of the order in 2014, but don’t be surprised to see him slide into the top of the order by August. Carpenter, Wong, Holliday, Craig, Adams, Molina. *shudder*
Both Shane Robinson and Pete Kozma get what could be their last Spring Training Opening Day start as a Cardinal. Robinson, with all of the power-hitting outfield prospects in the system, is likely on his way out of the Cards’ organization after 2014 (if not during). He’s talented and valuable, but he’s battled size perception and other, more powerful prospects his whole career. Oscar Taveras will likely put an end to that. Kozma, however, is coming to the end of his own prospect-labeled career as a Cardinal. He got his shot in 2013 to show he could stick at the MLB level. Defensively, he was a success. Offensively…well, he was a great defender. The signing of Johnny Peralta for four years — and perhaps the pursuit of Cuban SS Aledmys Diaz — means Kozma’s days as “the former #1 draft pick that didn’t work out for the Cardinals” are over. His spot is likely going to the clutch-hitting, versatile, experienced, and tough Daniel Descalso. Thanks for the memories, guys!
CHECK THIS OUT! For much, much, MUCH more Cardinals content to keep you busy during the long march to Opening Day in April, check out the latest edition of the United Cardinal Bloggers (UCB) post-season publication (Just $2.99 on Amazon and Kindle-enabled apps/devices!):
Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms: The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals: The 2013 United Cardinal Bloggers Publication [Kindle Edition]